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Corum's Boyd

Corum's Boyd

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Published by Chad Kohalyk
(11 April 06) A review of Robert Coram's book "BOYD: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art Of War"
(11 April 06) A review of Robert Coram's book "BOYD: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art Of War"

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Published by: Chad Kohalyk on Dec 28, 2009
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Coram’s Boyd
John Boyd was a fighter pilot. He was a fighter pilot'sfighter pilot, a knight of the sky, a high-G gun-slinger never defeated in air-to-air combat. He was also a thinker, a theorist,and a teacher of acolytes. Most of all he was driven. His thirstfor knowledge was never slaked. He searched for answersacross unrelated fields of study, looking for new ways to think about things, to find new patterns. He codified the abstract, thenwent on to investigate the act of thinking itself. In all this hewas relentless. Fame and fortune were of no matter, and thosethat got in the way of his quest for knowledge were trampled.His biographer, Robert Coram has said about Boyd:
"He's uniquely American in many respects. The opposition toauthority, the individuality about him, having a mission andstaying on it, no matter the odds. It's the story of a man of great morality and principle against un-principled people.Again, he's the kind of man that many of us in our heart of hearts aspire to be. He did it and he prevailed. We all get avicarious kick out of reading about men like that."
Coram's biography —BOYD: The Fighter Pilot WhoChanged The Art Of War— is a highly accessible account of John Boyd's life, from his birth in Eerie, Pennsylvania in 1927to his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, 1997. Coram brought the Air Force bar-room legend of John Boyd from outof the military ranks to the popular press.Although Boyd is cited in many works, only four trade pub-lications to date have been released detailing his life or histheories:
by Robert Coram
The Mind of War: John Boyd and American Security
 by Grant T. Hammond
 A Swift, Elusive Sword: What if SunTzu and John Boyd Did a National Defense Review?
by Chester W.Richards
Certain To Win: The Strategy Of John Boyd, Applied To Business
by Chester W. RichardsThis first round of historical analysis has been conductedmostly by insiders of Boyd's world. Former Pentagon analystChester (Chet) Richards associated with Boyd for over twentyyears. Dr Grant Hammond, Director of the Center for Strategyand Technology at the US Air War College, also worked withBoyd, and readily “admits a bias in favor of many of Col.Boyd’s ideas, if not an endorsement of his methods.”
Coram on the other hand is somewhat of an outsider.Though Coram has spoken to Boyd on the phone, he never metthe man. Coram approached Boyd as an investigative journalist,gathering research materials through interviews, personal writ-ings and videotapes. Coram's flowing prose has a southerndrawl that reads easily. The other books are more technical, andless accessible to the non-military public.Yet even as an outsider, Coram retains a highly sympatheticvoice. BOYD is rollicking adventure with a good old boy thatcan do no wrong. Examining the history of the authour himself  provides clues as to why Coram presented Body in this manner.
Portrait of a biographer
Robert Coram keeps his private life private, and his bio-graphical details are largely unknown.
Born in the late 1930's,Robert Coram grew up in southern Georgia. His father was asergeant in the US Army for 33 years. Coram has mixed feel-ings about his early past, about how he rejected his father'sstrict lessons as a youngster. Later, as an adult writing military biographers, Coram came to embrace what his father had taughthim "about the military, about the flag, about patriotism, andabout how man conducts himself." Coram's biographies onJohn Boyd and Colonel Bud Day have served as a catalyst for Coram's acceptance of the traditional, patriotic values that herejected for so long. History as a moral lesson is a theme thatcolours Coram's biography of Boyd.In the 1950's Coram enlisted in the US Air Force, where helearned to fly. After a few short years he enrolled in GeorgiaState University where in his second year he was hired by
The Atlanta Journal 
, one of Atlanta Georgia's two daily newspa- pers. During the 1960's Coram covered the civil rights move-ment in Atlanta, and even at this early stage in his career hewrote articles for aviation publications. Later, he was fired for trying to unionize the reporting staff at the
. From therehe moved to writing for different publications including
Sports Illustrated 
and the
 New York Times
while holding down "day jobs".The late 1970's saw Coram traveling around the Caribbean basin and Colombia writing about drug trafficking and the war in El Salvador. This resulted in him being asked to return towork as a reporter for 
The Atlanta Constitution
, which wasowned by Cox Enterprises along with
The Atlanta Journal 
. Hewas fired from the
after three years for his over-aggressive interview technique. Coram has garnered two Pulit-zer Prize nominations for his journalistic work.In the 1980's Coram wrote two series of fiction novels aboutdrug smuggling and Atlanta cops r es pectively. In the early1990's he returned to his investigative journalism roots with a book on the United States government's distasteful actions inAntigua. In his next book Coram co-authored a semi-autobiographical account of Christina Noble, an Irish woman
Interview with Tom Peters, 15 Feb 2006, available online athttp://www.tompeters.com/cool_friends/content.php?note=008572.php
Grant T. Hammond, “The Essential Boyd.” Belasarius, online athttp://www.belisarius.com/modern_business_strategy/hammond/essential_boyd.htm
The profile constructed here is based Tom Peters’ interview of Coram, Brian Lamb’s Booknotes interview(http://www.booknotes.org/Transcript/?ProgramID=1712
), the official bio on Coram’s website, available athttp://www.robertcoram.com/about_the_author.html
who worked with street children in Viet Nam. Finally, in thelate 1990's Coram profiled a famous bass fisherman for 
 Na-tional Geographic
.It was in 1999 that Coram decided to focus his biographywriting skills and investigative journalism experience on one of America's influential if unknown airmen: John Boyd.Coram creates an indepth portrayal of Boyd by weavingtogether strands of his past, linking Boyd’s lessons of youthwith his actions asan adult. The same could be said of Coramhimself, and thewriting of BOYD. As a pilot and ex-airmanhimself , Coram identified with Boyd. Coram admired Boyd’srevolutionary stance against the colossal bureaucracy of theUnited States Defense Department. Coram himself had been arevolutionary, fighting to unionize his fellow journalists andgetting fired for it. David Mets, one of the rare vocal critics of BOYD, speculates that Boyd’s death from prostate cancer “struck a chord with Coram” who also suffered with thedisease.
The writing of BOYD was a lesson for Coram. In a personalsense BOYD forced Coram to come to terms with his own past.He had rejected his father while Boyd had none. Coram re-spected Boyd and Boyd embodied many of the values that hisfather espoused. In a public sense Coram thought that Americashould learn from the Fighter Mafia and other revolutionaryactivities of Boyd. The behemoth Pentagon of the Sixties andSeventies was re-incarnated in the Nineties under the auspicesof the Revolution in Military Affairs. Boyd’s Acolytes contin-ued the fight against the Goliath of the Defense Department, but needed a new James Fallows to popularize the debate. It isagainst this background that BOYD is written, on one hand alesson for the American people to defend against the “military-industrial-complex,” and on the other as a personal lesson in patriotism and moral standing.
Snapshot of history
The personal context of the authour notwithstanding,BOYD was written during an interesting time in the history of American power and defense policy. The post-Cold War era brought hope that the threat of war would be dramatically di-minished as power was dispersed to a number of other centersincluding Europe, Japan and China. It seemed the first multipo-lar system was upon the world in a half century. Syndicatedcolumnist Charles Krauthammer argued differently, assertingthat the world was not becoming multipolar, but unipolar:
There is today no lack of second-rank powers. Germany andJapan are economic dynamos. Britain and France can deploydiplomatic and to some extent military assets. The Soviet Un-ion possesses several elements of power – military, diplomaticand political – but all are in rapid decline. There is but onefirst-rate power and no prospect in the immediate future of any power to rival it.
With nearly one third of the world's GDP, the third largest population and a military force that far outstrips any possiblecompetitor it was soon evident that the United States was theworld's sole superpower. Of course there still existed a number of other great powers in the post-Cold War system. Regionalsub-systems contained their own poles. But if conflict were toget out of hand, spreading and threatening the global interestsof the United States, disagreements will be settled by interven-tion on behalf of the superpower. Ultimately the system is uni- polar.Unipolar systems obviously lack great power war, but arecharacterized by "small wars" such as interventions as well as background conflicts of a mostly domestic nationalistic or eth-nic nature. This shift of weight in the international system re-sulted in a new kind of foreign policy tool for the America:humanitarian intervention. The 1990's saw a number of theseinterventions under the leadership of President Clinton.It wasn't only political strength, but also technological inno-vation that fueled this new moral foreign policy. The experienceof Operation Desert Storm inspired great confidence in US air  power. The US and coalition bombers pounded Iraq with over 1000 sorties a day for nearly one month. They followed with aground campaign, Operation Desert Sabre, that resulted in thequick retreat of Iraqi forces in a matter of days. Coalition forcessuffered exceedingly small casualties. The resounding successof Desert Storm was attributed to the US military's advancedtechnology, particularly precision-guided munitions and theabsolute dominance of US air power. A massive study commis-sioned by the US Air Force in 1993 entitled "Gulf War Air Power Survey" reinforced this opinion. Pundits and policymakers began to think they could conduct foreign policy atarm's length with little to no casualties by use of high technol-ogy air power. President Clinton exercised this theory in Augustof 1998 with Operation Infinite Reach where cruise missileswere used in strikes against terrorist outposts in Afghanistanand Sudan.The most visible of these air power-centric interventionswas the 88-day Kosovo air campaign in 1999. From March 24to June 10 NATO forces flew over 38,000 combat missions.But Slobodan Milosevic was unwilling to back down as Sad-dam Hussein did in 1991. Air power wasn't proving to be suffi-cient to stop the conflict, especially as the war degraded intoethic conflict and genocide. To deal with the existing groundthreats NATO had to put troops on the ground.It was against this historical backdrop that Robert Coram began to investigate John Boyd. Long-time associate Chuck Spinney had been after Coram to write a biography of Boyd, soCoram went to Washington to see if there was a story. After speaking with Spinney and some of the other Acolytes, Coramstarted research for BOYD in 1999.But there was another factor that must be considered, an-other theme that spurred Coram to write the book and the Aco-lytes to support him. It had to do with weapon systems acquisi-tion. The 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review had come up shortin the eyes of the Acolytes. The QDR was released May 19th, just two months after Boyd's death, and Chuck Spinney wasquick to publish his critical analysis in September 1997 in Stra-tegic Review. The 1997 QDR was considered a disaster, and thenext QDR was scheduled for the spring of 2001. Coram'sBOYD was to not only educate the American people about anunsung American hero, but to warn them of Dwight Eisen-hower's military-industrial complex.
Revolutionary debate
The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) has its origins inthe early 1990's. Reductions in budgets and the size of military
WS 500 - Coram
s Boyd
11 April 06 - Chad KOHALYK
David R. Mets, “Boydmania”
 Air & Space Power Journal,
Volume XVIII, No. 3 (Fall 2004). See footnote 3.
Charles Krauthammer. “The Unipolar Moment.”
 Foreign Affairs
70, 1 (1990/91).
forces after the Cold War resulted in a need to do more withless. The post-Cold War era was considered unpredictable, withnumerous potential threats putting even more demand ondownsized forces. Recent advances in internet and communica-tions technologies (ICT), sensors and guidance systems seemedto hold the answer.RMA has been defined in a Canadian context as:
... a major change in the nature of warfare brought about by theinnovative application of new technologies which, combinedwith dramatic changes in military doctrine and operational andorganizational concepts fundamentally alters the character andconduct of military operations.
 New technologies include "precision-guided munitions for  precision force, stealth for greater power projection, advancedintelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for en-hanced battle-space awareness, and advanced command, con-trol, communications and computing systems for increased battle-space control."
Technology was considered the solution for dealing with anunpredictable post-Cold War world. Theorists envisioned inter-net and communications technology linking all warfighters anddecision-makers —from infantryman to naval vessels to air-craft— to provide seamless access to timely information. Tech-nology would help to improve situational awareness and reduce"friction" in the battle space. This resulted in the acronymC4ISR, or 
Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance,
. This not onlyapplied to command and control but also to the connectivity of weapons as well. The lowliest infantryman could see his posi-tion and the position of his enemies on an electronic map whichrendered data in real-time from surveillance planes above. Thesame soldier could also contribute his own data to the system,entering reconnaissance information into the system to directartillery or air strikes.
The other side of the debate is where Boyd's Acolytes foundthemselves. The RMA critics argued that such a deluge of in-formation would be too overwhelming, effectively paralyzingcommand. In the past Boyd argued that one way to defeat theenemy was to overwhelm him with information:
Each level from sim ple to complex (platoon to theater) hastheir own observation-orientation-decision-action time cyclethat increases as we try to control more levels and details of command at the higher levels. Put simply, as the number of events we must consider increase, the longer it takes toobserve-orient-decide-act.
Some anti-RMA proponents embraced the new technologyas a way to free the military from a hierarchical commandstructure. A networked military could become more dispersedand decentralized. Improved telecommunications would allowsoldiers to maintain cohesion within a more distributednetwork-type organization. Such an organization would pro-mote better maneuver warfare and swarm tactics. The revolu-tion wasn't technology, it was social organization. Anti-RMA proponents argued for "the cheap and the many." More mass- produced weapons platforms, more UAVs, and more boots onthe ground that could self-organize and swarm the enemy at themoment he revealed a weak point.Boyd had argued vehemently against "gold-plating"throughout the development of the F-15 in the early 1970s.Boyd was famous for saying: "People, ideas, and hardware inthat order!" His Acolytes were fighting the same battle in the1990's against the RMA crowd and their "multi-role" weapons platforms. The F-22 Raptor, which formally entered into serv-ice in 2005 and is slated to replace the F-15, had begun its de-velopment in the early 1990s. The F-35, also began develop-ment under the Joint Advanced Strike Technology program, andis scheduled to replace the A-10, F-16, F-18 (champions of Boyd and Pierre Sprey) and AV-8B Harrier II around 2012.Surely recent advances in technology will have a profoundeffect on the way we conduct war in the future. But only timewill tell how society adapts to technology, a more far-reachingchange that affects the conduct of war on a much deeper level.Arthur C. Clarke famously observed that the effects of techno-logical innovations are typically overrated in the short run butunderestimated in the long run.
Future war
An additional aspect of the RMA debate was the conceptionof how war would be fought in the future. Boydian theoristswere at work here as well.During the 1990's Pentagon planners were unsure of wherethe interventionist missions were taking the US and stillsearched the horizon for something familiar. They settled their eyes on the next potential “near peer” competitor: China. Herewas a large, industrial state with a conventional military and booming economy. After 1996 the Taiwan Straits was the bat-tleground of the future. Planners started focussing on a high-
WS 500 - Coram
s Boyd
11 April 06- Chad KOHALYK
Department of National Defence, "Shaping the Future of the Canadian Forces: A Strategy for 2020," (Ottawa: Department of  National Defence (DND), 1999). p. 2.
Elinor Sloan, "DCI: Responding to the US-Led Revolution in Military Affairs."
 NATO Review
48, no. 1 (2000). pp. 4-7.
Elinore Sloan,
The Revolution in Military Affairs: Implications for Canada and Nato
. McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal(2002). pp. 16.
John Boyd,
 Patterns of Conflict 
, (1986) Slide #72. Available for download athttp://d-n-i.net/boyd/pdf/poc.pdf 

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